Willow and Stone, a new boutique located at 215 Decatur Street in Cape May, was slated to have a grand opening on March 15, 2020. That is until a global pandemic upended even the best laid plans of a seasoned business owner.
Cindy Huf, who also owns Good Scents, a fair-trade boutique featuring international artisans, and Red Oak Trading, featuring international women’s clothing, bags, purses, hats, and scarves, as well as Sensia, an online retailer of fragrance, had plans to bring an upscale boutique that includes styles for men who are on their way to a special event.
Huf first was inspired to open her third boutique when she was having lunch at FINS Restaurant and heard about Jeff Gernitis’s plans to renovate the historic home on the corner of Decatur Street (Jeff owns FINS and The Peter Shields Inn).
The renovation included installation of all new wood windows, wood siding, and a metal roof on the porches. A retail storefront was created on the Carpenter’s Lane side of the building with a side entry providing access to the retail level and a guest house level on the second floor. Visitors can relax on the porch’s rocking chairs and take in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.
“I wanted another retail option for men to shop. Initially, I had thought about menswear for upscale resort wear and attire that you could wear as a wedding guest,” Huf explained.
“As the pandemic continued, it became very obvious that normal life with events and activities weren’t going to be possible for some time. So, I had a store full of clothes that no one could wear,” she said.
Instead of panicking, Huf pivoted. She brought in clothing more suited for comfortable and casual wear that flatters and fits most body shapes.
“I’m no fashionista,” she said with a laugh. “But I know there are better options than worn-out pajama pants when you want to be comfortable.”
She also brought the knowledge of the harmful nature of the “fast fashion” industry from her experience as a clothing boutique owner. “We learned through working at Red Oak how much the fashion industry can pollute in the making of textile,” she said. “We also learned about how the industry can manufacture items quickly, cheaply, and not meant to last so customers wear them for a season and then it goes to into a donation bin or into a landfill.”
Huf said that through her trial and error at Red Oak Trading, she was prepared to look for smaller companies that offer quality products and make a difference in their community to stock her shelves at Willow and Stone. “I like the idea of spending a little more for a well-made item that came from a cottage industry that gives back. Plus, I can wear that item for years without it wearing out or going out of style,” she added.
“I’m no fashionista, but I know there are better options than worn-out pajama pants when you want to be comfortable.”
Willow and Stone officially opened its doors to customers on June 15, 2020, with menswear and ladies’ styles dedicated to the idea that comfortable clothing can be both stylish and ethically produced.
Once you enter off Carpenter’s Lane, you can either go left to look at the ladies’ styles or right to browse menswear.
Huf said that the one of the most popular items in the menswear section is the All Day – Every Day pant. With its breathable textile and ease of movement, it could be something worn to a gym. The fit and cut makes it just as appropriate for a stroll on the promenade or a casual lunch.
The Proper Sport dress shirts are another item that flies off the shelf. With its tasteful patterns, this shirt can look great either under a sport coat or on its own. It’s comfortable and stylish with four-way stretch and moisture wicking abilities. Plus, it will be one of the easiest shirts to care for because it only needs to be washed and hung dry—it won’t wrinkle.
Genuine Panama hats, with their breathable weaves and stylish brims, are seen throughout the shop by brands such as San Diego, Scala, and Tommy Bahama. If a hat is hand-woven in Ecuador, using the Toquilla palm, it is considered a genuine Panama hat.
An accessory that has been popular with both men and women are the bags from ORI London. The various bookbags, crossbody, and messenger bags are designed to meet anyone’s needs regardless of age, gender, or season without sacrificing personal style. The bag is light, durable, and weather-resistant with triple coated vegan-friendly fabrics and heavy-duty zippers. ORI’s sustainable bags say they use 85 percent less energy, 80 percent less water and 65 percent fewer emissions than typical manufacturers. They also use recycled material that is delivered with less packaging, less weight, and less fuel for transport. Each bag is made from 12-15 recycled plastic bottles.
“And we carry many staples as well,” noted Huf. “If someone forgot to pack a belt, or socks or underwear, we have those items that can often get forgotten when you’re on a vacation or traveling.”
As you walk over to the ladies’ side of the store, you can’t help but touch the soft hand-dyed fabrics from Sundown by River + Sky, which has styles that are comfortable enough for a yoga session but too pretty to just go to the gym. The athleisure and loungewear collection is made in the USA using eco-friendly fabrics.
Huf noted that one of the best sellers in the ladies’ section are stylish pants from a Manhattan-based company called Krazy Larry. The pants have a comfortable pull-on fit and are featured in a wide range of bold solids and unique prints and would look appropriate in an office or on vacation. The sizing is inclusive to a large range of body styles, with sizes from 0 to 24.
Powder by designer Lisa Beaumont of Edinburgh, Scotland features accessories for men and women such as sunglasses, scarves, hats, headbands, and socks. Collections are wearable and can be fun and glamorous. Powder’s beautiful bespoke packaging makes their products perfect for either gifting or simply treating yourself.
“I know customers that bought the hats because they fell in love with the beautiful hat box,” Huf said.
Huf literally followed her nose and discovered a passion for retail during a trip with her husband to San Antonio in 1986. “I found this fragrance product in San Antonio where they made little wax chips for potpourri,” she said. “I was young and naïve and thought I could open a simple summer business selling those potpourri chips. We put them in clear, glass jars and it almost looked like a candy store. People would mix them to make their own combination of scents.”
From there, she created Good Scents and jumped into a new career as a boutique owner. “Retail was a learning process,” said Huf. “I started out without any expectations and went from there.” “It’s gratifying and very humbling,” Huf said of her longtime customers that make stopping at her boutiques part of their Cape May tradition. “Customers of the other stores will get curious and come and check out things out at Willow and Stone. When people tell me that they’ve been stopping in for a number of years or introduce me to their family or watch their kids grow up, it makes it all worth it. It’s that social connection and interaction that we love, and we’ve been missing out on. Now that it’s back, it’s so nice to reconnect.”